You’ve probably seen them in newspapers, magazines or other paper-based publications: two-dimensional bar codes, called quick response codes (QR codes). What are they? They have been described as paper-based hyperlinks, and this is a good description. You simply take a picture of a QR code with your smart phone, and you get redirected to a website using your cell phone’s browser. They can also be used digitally—you can append a QR code to a Tweet, or they can be displayed on a web page to transfer contact information directly to a cell phone, for example. This technology is blurring the distinction between smart phones, digital destination and content, and paper-based communication mediums.
QR technology provides cell phone users the ability to scan paper-based content using the cell phone’s camera to decode information on a menu, a magazine, a business card, a gift card, a coupon or a website. Once the QR code has been scanned and decoded, the user has access via their cell phone to the information or destinations that can be any or all of the following:
- Personal or company contact information in a MeCard, BlackBerry PIN or BlackBerry vCard.
- An embedded phone number which the phone can dial, or a company home page URL or a specific destination on a social network (i.e. company fan page).
- An RSS feed, SMS or an arbitrary text message.
- An email address or a calendar event with location, title, start and end time, alarm and zone.
- A physical address with location coordinates information.
This unadorned code can be visually modified to a certain extent. For example, a number of agencies are providing custom QR codes for businesses that incorporate their logo or an image. These custom codes are referred to as Design QR Codes.
In the case of the first code the image (heart) lays on top of a number of the QR code cells, thus obscuring some of the information. However this is not a problem because the information is recreated using robust error correction code technology. In the second code, the individual cells are not obscured by the Lufthansa image, and the decoder can actually read all the cells. In this case the error correction algorithm is treating the logo as if it was a smudge, and correctly decodes the information.
What can you do with QR codes?
What are the possibilities? Well, let’s take a look at where consumers are finding QR codes. They show up in magazine ads, maps, food packaging, posters, leaflets, business cards, emails, websites and on the sides of buses. With these vehicles in mind, the current technology could be used in the following manner:
- Encode contact information or a short white paper on the back of a business card. This enables a paper to digital transfer of information.
- Enable an easy connection by a mobile device to your website. You could also encode a map with directions for company visitors, or encode company information for display in Google maps.
- Track print-based media effectiveness—tracking which ad or poster drove traffic to custom landing pages. Users can also interact with other printed media such as offers on paper-based gift cards and coupons. QR codes can be printed on receipts with additional offers, or provide customer service contact information.
- Users can also interact with digital advertisements. For example, they can scan digital coupons and discount offers on a webpage. You could also place QR codes in an email newsletter for additional offers or for event-based information.
- You can develop loyalty programs—providing special offers on landing pages from paper-based content that is not accessible from any other source. You could push consumers to a website to view the daily offer, to see if they won a free prize or perhaps to participate in a contest. You could also conduct surveys where a user scans one of multiple choice codes and the select response is automatically sent back to the company.
- You can enable product purchase offers, and provide easy access to product information and reviews. You can also provide easy connections to down load applications and content. You could also register a bookmark, append a QR code to a tweet using Bit.ly or encode access to a special webinar.
- You could print codes with product or contact information on business swag such as coffee cups, t-shirts and hats. I’ve also seen several examples where a QR codes were tattooed on a man’s arm.
Examples of how a few companies are using QR Codes
Mainstream retailers, manufactures, media publishers, non-profits and restaurants are experimenting with QR Codes. For example;
- Dick’s Sporting Goods displayed a QR code on the JumboTron during a football game. The fans took pictures of the QR code which connected them to a website where they were offered discounts on purchases.
- McDonald’s uses QR Codes on its packaging in Japan so consumers can access nutritional information, and review the amount of calories, fat, and carbohydrates in their meal.
- A couple of years ago, Ralph Lauren began placing QR Codes in print ads, store placements, and mailers. The QR Codes gave consumers access to their style guides, limited edition collections and exclusive video content.
- Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull movie posters were printed with QR Codes, giving users access to movie’s trailers. The user also received a QR code discount coupon for their next concession purchase.
- Pepsi printed QR codes on bottles that redirected users to a custom landing page to view content.
- CSI recently used QR codes as a plot twist in a TV episode.
- The Nonprofit Technology Network used QR codes to conduct a scavenger hunt at the recent NTEN conference.
- Google is using QR codes to highlight “Favorite Places” in search results.
- Editoras Online published a book that contained nothing but QR codes (no text what so ever) that when decoded provided content about love and hate.
- Audi made a giant QR code out of people holding black and white squares in a video advertisement.
- Lego created QR code advertisement using Lego blocks.
- Calvin Klein displayed a large QR code on a billboard that launched a racy advertisement.
- Real estate agents are putting QR codes on “house for sale” signs.
- Best Buy has a QR code iPhone app that provides product information.
- QR codes are showing up on Japanese tombs—providing information about the deceased.
- QR codes were used in the NBA all-star game.
- Fox TV is using QR codes to advertise TV programs.
- Starbucks is using QR codes for micro payments.
QR code generators
If you wish to experiment with QR codes there are plenty of sites where you can generate codes for free in just seconds—here are a few good ones.
Download QR Code Readers
As well, there are many sources for free QR Code Readers for your smart phone.
QR codes in the marketplace
The rest of this article highlights selected examples of companies using QR codes in advertisement, offers and content.
Design QR codes
The QR Code below incorporates the Adidas name and logo, while the second code with the number 9 was developed for the firm 9, and appeared on movie posters.
QR codes in advertisements
The Pepsi ad cleverly uses the QR code as an integral part of the visual display.
Calvin Klein ad
This giant QR Code on a billboard allows consumers to view a short video advertisement.
Print-based to digital transfer
A printed card offering access to digital content.
Facebook QR code
Scanning this code takes you to a company’s Facebook fan page.
Dell uses QR Codes to provide information about how consumers can win a new laptop.
QR Codes are not in widespread use in the US yet, but all the technology parts are in place and ready to be exploited. The platform is mature, it’s an ISO standard, and is being effectively used by companies and consumers in Europe and Asia. Major US internet-based companies, and well known retailers are embracing the technology—and early adaptors (consumers) are experimenting with them. QR Codes are cool, and are perceived to be cutting edge—even though they have been around since 1994.
QR Codes are so easy to use, and are so versatile that they provide instant value to individuals and companies alike. This technology will increasingly play an enabling role in future mobile strategy for product sales, information access and promotional programs.
The idea of digitally connecting consumers of your paper-based content to the internet is a powerful concept. They’re coming, are you ready?